We’re all born creative but, as we start coloring within the lines, we start putting boundaries on our creative freedom. By the time we get to adulthood, that ability to generate original ideas is heavily constrained by our social environment, sticking to things “proven to work” and by our own habits and experiences.
“[People in creative fields] develop predictable habits that take them into unpredictable territory. This is a lifestyle choice to stay in the uncomfortable territory of the unknown,” says Paul King, Computational Neuroscientist & Product Strategist.
So what can we do when we feel our established creative systems start to rust?
Just like any muscle in our bodies, our brain needs frequent training to keep it strong and creative. So, I created a workout plan with five simple exercises to keep you flexing your creativity. Each of these exercises were adapted from 5 books on creative-thinking techniques.
Exercise 1: The Exit Sign by Stefan Mumaw & Wendy Lee Oldfield in Caffeine for the Creative Mind
Exit signs are everywhere. A simple white rectangle with bold, red typography that points you outside. But what happens if you remove the word “Exit”?
Develop an alternative to the exit sign, without the word “exit”, that still clearly alerts people that this is the way out.
This is a visual exercise, so use pencils, markers, paint, or a digital tool like Adobe Illustrator to create your new design.
Exercise 2: Assumptions and reversals by Michael Michalko in Thinkertoys, 2nd Edition
Sometimes assumptions are so ingrained in us that we never think to challenge them. For example, we’d never question that a restaurant has menus, or that bicycles have pedals. But in this exercise we’re going to do just that.
Select a topic and list 3 assumptions about your subject. Then write 3 reversals of those assumptions. Finally, figure out a way to accomplish each reversal. These solutions are your ideas!
Here’s an example from Michale’s book to guide your thinking. Let’s say we choose “Restaurants” as our subject.
Assumption: Restaurants have menus.
Reversal: Restaurants have no menus of any kind.
Solution/Idea: A restaurant in which the chef informs each customer on what he bought that day at the market. He asks the customer to select the items that appeal to them and the chef then creates a new dish with those specific items.
Exercise 3: The Circle, Square, Triangle Problem by Richard Wilde & Judith Wilde in Visual Literacy
Geometric shapes are often the basis of graphic design. In this exercise you’ll leverage circles, squares and triangles to create something new.
Print out the graphic below to use as your assignment sheet. Create 6 identifiable images by adding other elements while maintaining the integrity of the original shapes. Use nothing more than a black pen or marker on your sheet.
Exercise 4: The Ad Haiku by Bruce Bendinger in The Copy Workshop Workbook
In Japanese poetry, the art of haiku distills a story into only three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the middle seven and the final line has 5 again. The rhythm of it comes from the phrasing, not necessarily the rhyme. In this exercise you’ll practice distilling information about different subjects into a haiku.
Write 5 unique haikus based on the following topics:
- A haiku based on an object or scene in nature.
- A haiku about a tool or kitchen appliance.
- A haiku about how to do something / instructions.
- A haiku that is a movie or TV show review.
- A haiku about a brand.
Exercise 5: Think “As If” by Jordan Ayan in Aha! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and find great ideas
What would someone else do if they were in your position? Sometimes exploring a challenge by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes could bring about new ideas that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves.
Think of a situation or creative problem in your work or personal life. How would the following people approach this problem? Spend a few minutes writing a few sentences representing how each person would solve the problem.
- Your favorite author
- A teacher or coach from your past
- Kris Kardashian
- Peter Pan
- Your least favorite politician
- Your favorite movie star
Ready for more? Dig into any of the books mentioned above.